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#1 Record / Radio City
#1 Record / Radio City
37 used & new from $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If only all pop aspired to be this good., October 8, 2006
This review is from: #1 Record / Radio City (Audio CD)
[#1 Record: 3.5 stars, Radio City: 4.5 stars]

Big Star are widely considered indie touchstones. By now you've probably heard about the story of Alex Chilton and his failed attempts at commercial success, and how they influenced the likes of Cheap Trick, The Replacements, Weezer and all good power-pop bands to follow despite being long overlooked, so I'll skip all the legend-building and cut to the chase.

Both of Big Star's first albums are great pop records, though sophomore release Radio City is the real masterwork here, while the more Chris Bell-influenced #1 Record has strong moments but now sounds a bit too fey and mild (especially The India Song, which is just plain twee, and I don't like twee).

Radio City captures the perfect compromise between #1 Record and the bizarre, unfinished and rough Third/Sister Lovers (by which point Chilton went totally off the deep end). Bell's slow withdrawal from the band led Chilton to take the helm and the results are a neverending string of glorious rock songs--classic raveups O My Soul, Life Is White, Back of A Car, and She's A Mover are balanced by the bitter You Get What You Deserve (my favorite), pop standard September Gurls, and the pretty acoustic closer I'm In Love With A Girl.

#1 Record is no pushover, however. It does have the shimmering beauties Ballad of El Goodo and Thirteen, and In The Street (anyone who's watched That '70s Show can pick out this one, except that version's done by Cheap Trick) and Don't Lie To Me should've been classic rock mainstays in a just universe. Both albums are full of great heartfelt coming-of-age lyrics that predate indie rock at its best, some of the best pop guitar ever, vocals and harmonies that are just edgy enough to avoid the fluff factor, and lots of jangly melodies that the likes of today's commercial hack clowns would kill to write (if they weren't retarded, that is). And for that matter, give me one song on these albums over the entire works of Brian Wilson anyday.

Don't expect anything totally life-changing, but if you crave lovely pop done right, #1 Record/Radio City is your album of choice. Recommended.

Stoner Witch
Stoner Witch
Price: $12.39
65 used & new from $3.09

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hail the King (Buzzo), baby., October 8, 2006
This review is from: Stoner Witch (Audio CD)
Pacific Northwest rock shamans the Melvins are among the innovators of '80s and '90s "grunge," though they easily defied this simple categorization with every release. For every churning bucket 'o' sludge like Bullhead they released some off-the-wall album of ambient noodling like Ambient Noise Takeover or Honky. Stoner Witch, one part of the trio released during the Atlantic era (the other two are Houdini and Stag), combines both sides of the Melvins' sound into a surprisingly coherent whole while adding a small dose of commercial hard rock sensibility for good measure.

However, don't be mislead into thinking this is some pallid sellout effort, 'cause it's anything but. If anything, the fact that this band ever got signed to a major is a mystery to me (and I mean that in a positive way, of course).

The first four songs kick Stoner Witch off with a bang, with one-minute opener Skweetis (I wish it were longer--Dale Crover's legendary drumming kicks arse on this one), insidiously catchy stomper Queen, balls-to-the-wall speed of Sweet Willy Rollbar, and the excellent Revolve, a minor hit which stands as one of the most accessible and catchy entries in their catalog. King Buzzo's gruff howl and guitar playing is in fine form here.

Then it starts getting weird. You've got nice chilled slow burns like Goose Freight Train and the dreamy 6-minute Shevil; a dark evil dirge titled At The Stake that would've fit right in on their earlier albums; and Roadbull and Magic Pig Detective, which screw with expectations in some entertaining ways--the former starts like one of the earlier, more accessible tracks before turning into a marching tune complete with whistling, and the latter starts with a wall of noise then suddenly drops in a bit of rock to make it go down easy.

The best two songs, however, are saved for last. June Bug is a great little instrumental with excellent dynamics and melody that cries for a longer run time. The album closes with Lividity, a 9-minute creeping ambient drone that somehow manages to be driven mostly by a handful of REALLY HEAVY bass notes and sporadic Dale hits seemingly placed just right to make you jump. Fans of Earth, Sunn0)))) and the like (all Melvins-influenced, natch) will love this one.

All in all, Stoner Witch is one of the most interesting and varied "major label" albums ever. If you're going to start with any Melvins record, make it this one. Chase that with a round of Houdini then the sonic extremity of Bullhead and Ozma/Gluey Porch Treatments. If you're not singing the Buzzo's praises by then consider yourself lame.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2014 8:45 AM PST

Pawn Hearts
Pawn Hearts
Price: $13.99
78 used & new from $4.34

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Which God guides my hand?", August 18, 2006
This review is from: Pawn Hearts (Audio CD)
Alright, I have to admit that this album is proggier than prog (the cover art is um, far out... yeah) and Peter Hammill's melodramatic delivery is an acquired taste. Still, 1971's Pawn Hearts is a far sight better, more radical, and progressive than anything that Yes, ELP, or even early Genesis ever did, and stands alongside the best works of Mk IV King Crimson and Gentle Giant when it comes to '70s art rock.

Setting VDGG apart from most prog bands is their combination of avante-garde jazz and symphonic tendencies. Rarely does a guitar show up on this album (on Man-Erg courtesy of the great Robert Fripp), the lead instrument void being filled by Hugh Banton's organ/synths and David Jackson's aggressive sax. Hammill's over-the-top vocals are the centerpoint of a swirling vortex of dissonant jamming, angular melodies, and off-kilter instrumental harmonizing that stood apart from their more staid contemporaries.

The overall mood is a lot darker, too. Lemmings/Cogs paints images of the sheeplike mass "crashing on quite blindly into the sea." Man-Erg's subdued first few moments are abruptly broken up by a thorny transition into moody jazz, and the album's multi-part centerpiece A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers takes the listener on a 23-minute journey through pretty balladry to despair and madness and finally a poignant resolution ("all things are apart").

The bonus tracks are intriguing as well, with a catchy 3-minute instrumental Theme One, a rough version of accompanying single W, and a few instrumentals slated to make it to a double-LP version of the album that was shot down by VDGG's record label. Amazingly, this VERY uncommercial album (no songs under ten minutes) managed to crack the #1 spot in Italy. Pawn Hearts has aged surprisingly well and has something to offer even for casual fans of prog. Recommended.

Bullitt (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Bullitt (Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Various
Price: $6.45
25 used & new from $1.80

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are you tired of..., August 15, 2006
Idiotic and extraneous plots that a six year old would reject as implausible?

Childish "comic relief" and loud "ethnic" (read: minstrel) sidekicks?

Lame CGI marring otherwise cool chase scenes?

Cheesy moralizing and monochromatic characters?

Jerry Bruckheimer?

Good, because this excellent 1968 film features precisely none of those things (let's just hope Hollywood doesn't castrate this classic Steve McQueen vehicle with some half-arsed remake that features all of the above *cough*GoneIn60Seconds*cough*).

You will be fiending for a '68 Charger and/or Mustang after watching Bullitt, if you weren't already.

Get this as a teaser before purchasing Le Mans (the ULTIMATE car guy's movie). A gritty, intense, all stripped-down masterpiece.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2009 7:40 PM PDT

Sceptic's Universe
Sceptic's Universe
17 used & new from $16.48

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Synapse-frying prog metal., July 26, 2006
This review is from: Sceptic's Universe (Audio CD)
[Dry and overlong review ahead.]

Criminy, this album is nuts. Amazes me that this is just a debut--this Norwegian outfit is already ridiculously tight, with chops pouring from every orifice, and the songwriting is better than you might expect. However, A Sceptic's Universe isn't without flaws.

For one, the vocalist. Ovyvind Haageland (sic?) takes the power metal Geoff Tate-esque route--nothing inherently wrong with that, and his *tone* isn't objectionable. But his phrasing seems to be really awkward, stretching words at the end of verses ("miiiiiind!" etc.) and stumbling through the others in a very odd fashion. There are plenty of vocalists who can sing in odd times and make it work (Jens Kidman and Maynard James Keenan being two) but Haageland's style needs some refining and he's probably the weakest link of this band.

For another, the guitar tone is very light for a nominally metal album. Granted, it's very clear, and you can easily tell what both Steinar Gunderson and Kaj Gornitzka are doing, but it could use a bit more punch (this might be due to the nature of the music they're playing which doesn't rely on fixed riffs very often more than the production itself).

Finally, the lyrics are rather pseudointellectual Randian/objectivist gibberish that I don't really care for, but that's a minor point.

The music itself is utterly insane and takes many listens to grasp let alone enjoy. A little sterile perhaps, but there ARE hooks, and melodies, and even some really awesome polyrhythmic grooves that pop up every now and again (the end of Spinning and the Shuffled section of the epic Cloud Constructor, especially) that remind me of a less brutal Meshuggah. There are also some more atmospheric bits (the breakdown in Adaptability, the jazzy acoustic shredding in the middle of Insect) thrown in to give your brain some rest. The guitar solos are your basic shredfests, but fortunately they're short and each track isn't just a bunch of solos thrown on top of each other (and the keyboard solos are kept to a minimum, thank God).

And Lars K. Norberg... holy shoes, this man can play bass like you wouldn't believe. Few tech-metal bands allow their bassist this much freedom or space in the mix, and Norberg takes advantage on every track with some amazing jazzy runs on his four-string (without hogging the limelight). Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar) plays drums with surprising restraint given the rest of the band, but anyone who can keep this pack of maniacal virtuosos tethered to the ground deserves kudos.

I was torn between giving A Sceptic's Universe a 3.5 or a 4-star rating, given its rather glaring faults but I can't dismiss the potential and phenomenal playing of this band. With better songwriting and a new vocalist (Vintersorg or Garm, perhaps?) Spiral Architect could be the prog-metal outfit to beat. Not bad for a band that already makes Dream Theater look like AC/DC. Fans of Cynic, Athiest, Dillinger Escape Plan, Queensryche etc. would like this one.

Rid Of Me
Rid Of Me
Price: $7.39
163 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rawr., July 24, 2006
This review is from: Rid Of Me (Audio CD)
Eh, angry chick rawk usually isn't my realm, but PJ Harvey has more than what it takes to stand out in such an inconsistent genre. And Rid Of Me is probably the favorite of the PJ albums I've heard so far (hey, it's produced by Steve Albini--were you expecting it to suck? C'mon now).

Numbered lists rule, so here I go:

1. PJ can actually SING. She doesn't do the obnoxious talk-grunt thing like Kim Gordon or screech like that harridan from Bikini Kill, but nor is she precious or wispy (not that I don't like that on occassion). Her bluesy, grittier intonation can pull off both soulful singing and a gutsy wail, often on the same song, without being overwrought or shrill.

2. PJ does sing about relationships on a rather personal level, true, but it's rarely offputting or loaded with embarrassing lyrics like most of her peers (*cough*Tori Amos*cough*). She can be credibly seen as a storyteller looking through the eyes of a character rather than some clumsy wielder of feminist agitprop. And she is at her best here--raw, energetic, powerful, credibly angry where other female artists only irritate.

3. She effing ROCKS. Listen to the awesome, rockabilly-esque riffs that open 50 ft. Queenie or the caustic assault of Snake and tell me PJ can't wield a six-string like nobody's business. And while her songs feel off-the-cuff and unrehearsed, there are enough little compositional tricks (violins, the occassional odd time signature) to keep you engaged in the long term.

Alright, enough. Highlights include the quiet-to-loud roar of the title track, the beautiful Missed, both versions of Man Sized (one a rocked-out version, the other an eerie atonal string sextet backing PJ's frantic vocals), the grinding blues of Hook, and an able cover of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Fans of early 90's alternative will devour this album. Too bad PJ made quieter and slighty less interesting albums after this one.

Price: $12.39
92 used & new from $3.96

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EARGASM., June 10, 2006
This review is from: Loveless (Audio CD)
Little more needs to be said, but I'll say more anyway (slow day).

I've owned this album for at least 3 years and the beautiful melodies, wonderfully muted vocals by Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields and subtle sonic textures buried under walls of earth-shaking yet soothing guitars, synths and God knows what else (the elaborate production ended up costing near a half-million dollars, almost bankrupting the band's label) never fails to captivate me.

All the songs ranging from the Sonic Youth-on-ecstacy opener Only Shallow to the dancy pulses of Soon are amazing, but the real standout is Sometimes. When I heard it featured in a scene of Lost In Translation, I was transfixed by the sheer gorgeousness and emotion. I HAD to listen to Loveless straight away and satisfy my fix.

This album is aural sex. The Shoegazer Bible. Necessary like water.

Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Selected Ambient Works 85-92
14 used & new from $5.30

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic ambient electronica [4.5 stars]., May 28, 2006
I'm a newcomer to Aphex Twin and the world of electronica in general, but even a rank newbie can recognize brilliance when he hears it. And this is no exception.

It's hard to believe that British wunderkind Richard D. James was only a teenager playing around with synths and samples (dating back to 1985, no less). This album's composition remains wholly undated and refreshingly accessible (an aspect that isn't always present in later Aphex Twin) laden with hooks in the form of catchy basslines, clever beats, and intriguing found sounds. Every track is at least above-average, and some are amazing--opener Xtal, with its blissed-out female vocals and waltz-like rhyhtm, is a track that I wish could last double its 5-minute run. Same with the dancy Pulsewidth and Heliosphan, the proto-IDM of Green Calx, and the serene beauty of I.

In fact, I'm only docking the half-star because the merely good tracks (ie. Tha, Ptolemy) stretch for a bit too long while the great tracks get cut short. Oh well, that's what the repeat button is for...

Absolutely necessary for the foundation of an electronica collection, and just great in general (so long as you're not expecting insanely complex Rubik's Cube IDM like Autechre). "We are the Music Makers," indeed.

Los Angeles
Los Angeles
Offered by MEGA Media
Price: $11.39
69 used & new from $3.71

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars X-TACY! (sorry, that was lame), May 15, 2006
This review is from: Los Angeles (Audio CD)
Imagine a hybrid of The Sex Pistols, Fleetwood Mac, and Chuck Berry and you'd have something close to X's genius sound. Wheareas other West Coast outfits like Black Flag and Circle Jerks made a career out of playing harder, louder, and faster X placed more emphasis on tight musicianship and tunefulness, while still remaining very much a punk band. Their 1980 debut Los Angeles is perhaps their best, darkest album (classic cover to boot!).

From the moment that Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe start applying their distinctive and slightly off-key harmonies, you can tell from the get-go it's an X song. Both vocalists tell seamy tales of California's underground and the ennui and nihilism of the rich, ranging from date rape (Johnny Hit & Run Pauline) to crashing in a punk dive (Nausea). Exene would have an even greater role in later releases, but on this album the songs are split largely 50/50 between the two vocalists.

Meanwhile, Billy Zoom's guitar blasts out pitch-perfect surf rock riffs and DJ Bonebrake's tight rhythms hold the whole thing together. Ex-Doors member and producer Ray Manzarek contributes some color with some great overdubbed organ lines, but otherwise this album is raw and searing, just as it should be. Your Phone's Off The Hook (But You're Not), The World's A Mess It's In My Kiss, Sex & Dying In High Society and the title track are barnstorming, venomous, and humorous all at once, while The Unheard Music is a slower-burning track with a more poetic and haunting delivery thrown in for variety.

Apart from a somewhat mediocre cover of The Doors' Soul Kitchen and a short album length (the original album is under 30 minutes, and the extra tracks are mostly demos that don't add much to the album), Los Angeles is an excellent release and essential to any discerning punker. Wild Gift and Under The Big Black Sun are also vital X albums, if a bit more polished and civilized than this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2014 1:47 AM PDT

Suicide (First Album)
Suicide (First Album)
Offered by Puretone Audio
Price: $29.77
35 used & new from $8.72

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Post-punk... pre-Ramones?! [4.5 stars], May 4, 2006
This review is from: Suicide (First Album) (Audio CD)
Alan Vega and Martin Rev were WAAAY ahead of their time. Though their debut wasn't officially released until '78 (and even then, it predated the debuts of Joy Division, Killing Joke, The Cure, and possibly even PiL by about a year or so), this guitarless NY duo had been around since '71.

Anyway this album is the genesis of post-punk/New Wave, performed with a beat-up organ/synthesizer Rev probably found in the back alley of a music shop, and a decrepit but chugging drum machine that brings a futuristic pulse to the eerie synths and Alan Vega's voice, which sounds like Elvis detained in Guantanomo. Very original, very creepy, and very cool.

The material varies from what would be otherwise poppy tracks made slightly unnerving due to their foreboding starkness (Girl, Cheree, Keep Your Dreams) to more haunting and atmospheric songs (Ghost Rider, Rocket USA, Che) and even one track that sounds a bit like a primitive Doors cut (I Remember).

Then there's the 10-minute Frankie Teardrop--perhaps one of the most terrifying and claustrophobic songs ever released, with Vega's banshee screams punctuating the narrative of a young factory worker who kills himself and his own family out of desperation and wakes up in hell. The conclusion, with its ominous synths and Vega sounding as if he's going insane from the horror around him, will leave a scar on your mind.

The bonus material includes a decent, if roughly recorded CBGB's performance and the confrontational and chaotic "23 Minutes Over Brussels" show which is important for historical reasons, I suppose, but isn't worth listening to more than once or twice. The first disc is all you need to know. A bit primitive and dated in places, but still vital, influential, and amazing for fans of the genre.

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